by Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin
The New Hampshire Judicial Branch is seeking to use $6.4 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to help boost remote access to the court, fund court navigators, and increase civil legal resources.
In a request to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery says the money would help with expanding services to people affected by COVID-19 who are using the court system. The funding will also go toward security upgrades for the court, GOFERR says.
Civil rights advocates and judicial representatives have been working more than a decade to improve how accessible New Hampshire courts are to marginalized people. In January 2021, the state’s Access to Justice Commission released a report finding that people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, people at risk of eviction, and those facing economic insecurity are all in need of free or low-cost legal assistance, and that COVID-19 had exacerbated those challenges. The report urged the state to improve its services to match that need.
According to the spending request, which will come before the committee when it meets Friday, the proposed money will help expand the court navigator pilot program, which connects people with a court employee to guide them through how to file forms and prepare for court appearances. One way it may expand that program is through volunteer navigators.
The funding may also help build on the alternative dispute resolution programs run by the judicial branch – a mechanism to reduce costly court appearances – and a “virtual court center” to provide online information for people who are representing themselves and to translate it for those who speak English as a second language.
The judicial branch hopes to use the money to simplify some of the court applications themselves, GOFERR noted.
And part of the money would fund security enhancements, including surveillance equipment such as cameras, alarms, and tighter building access controls, the request adds.
“(The judicial branch’s) civil legal needs projects are designed to remove the barriers to justice that have been exacerbated by economic hardship brought on by the pandemic,” Chase Hagaman, deputy director of GOFERR, wrote in the request.
The money comes from New Hampshire’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, passed by Congress to give block funding to states for COVID-19-related expenses.
The Fiscal Committee, made up of lawmakers from the House and Senate, will meet Friday at 10 a.m in room 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord.
This story was written by Ethan DeWitt, a reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.
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